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Profits vs Time Investment in Game Dev


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#1 Ukrzuel   Members   -  Reputation: 101

Posted 17 July 2011 - 11:36 PM

I wanted to create a topic that's directly to the point. Making a game to sell for $1.00 - $5.00 appears to be a very sad reality in today's game market. I've been programming for over ten years as a hobbyist, and I'm not sure if this is even worth pursuing anymore. I wouldn't mind selling a few games, however it appears people have low balled the value of games, thus killing the money potential for all developers.

I'm looking for responses from people who've successfully sold their own games. I'm finding it extremely hard to believe the time investment is worth the $40.00 I can make from 40 sales before a better game hits the spot light. I'm also looking for people who've branded themselves first, not people making money off some ads or sponsorship to share their experiences.

I just find it really sad how anyone can expect to work months or even years on a project, to receive $2.00 for a good quality, fun and unique game.

Any other developers find this a sad truth, and very depressing?

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#2 KanonBaum   Members   -  Reputation: 277

Posted 17 July 2011 - 11:40 PM

I don't have any answers for you, but I know exactly where you're coming from. I've had this same thought haunt me for a while now. I'll definitely keep my eyes open for any replies.
I'm that imaginary number in the parabola of life.

#3 SimonForsman   Crossbones+   -  Reputation: 6108

Posted 18 July 2011 - 12:07 AM

I wanted to create a topic that's directly to the point. Making a game to sell for $1.00 - $5.00 appears to be a very sad reality in today's game market. I've been programming for over ten years as a hobbyist, and I'm not sure if this is even worth pursuing anymore. I wouldn't mind selling a few games, however it appears people have low balled the value of games, thus killing the money potential for all developers.

I'm looking for responses from people who've successfully sold their own games. I'm finding it extremely hard to believe the time investment is worth the $40.00 I can make from 40 sales before a better game hits the spot light. I'm also looking for people who've branded themselves first, not people making money off some ads or sponsorship to share their experiences.

I just find it really sad how anyone can expect to work months or even years on a project, to receive $2.00 for a good quality, fun and unique game.

Any other developers find this a sad truth, and very depressing?


The trick is to not work more than 1-2 months on such a cheap game and then to sell far more than 40 copies, once you get a reasonably successful game you have to milk it for all its worth, make sequels using the same engine and art (just make new levels, possibly add a few minor features), if a game isn't successful enough to be milked you can and should still reuse as much of the code as possible for other games to reduce their production costs, make free to play web(flash/unity/java/whatever works on your primary target platform + atleast one large web game portal) versions that is supported by ads to get extra revenue and promote the mobile versions, living in a country with low living costs helps alot aswell. (You'll be competing with well educated and skilled people who consider $1500 per month or sometimes even less to be a great salary)

If you are targeting the PC market then you can sell the games for far more than $5 (PC indie titles tend to sell for $10-$25 quite frequently but mobile quality games won't do that well on this platform so development costs are higher aswell).

Basically it all boils down to keeping your costs down and your quality up, your first game probably won't be profitable but if you're smart and reuse large parts of the work your 2nd, 3rd, etc games can be made at a much lower cost and still be of a higher quality.

You should however forget about becoming rich by making games, simply making a living or keeping a company alive in this field can be considered a success.
I don't suffer from insanity, I'm enjoying every minute of it.
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#4 ApochPiQ   Moderators   -  Reputation: 15698

Posted 18 July 2011 - 12:12 AM

If you want to get rich, do something else.

If you want to make games, who cares if you make money off of it?

#5 Hodgman   Moderators   -  Reputation: 30378

Posted 18 July 2011 - 12:19 AM

Selling games is a business.
If a company can sell a game for $1/copy and make a profit, then they will. If they can't make a profit that way, they wont.

I just find it really sad how anyone can expect to work months or even years on a project, to receive $2.00 for a good quality, fun and unique game.

Who is expecting this? You sound as if this is a reality that's been forced upon you, like you're in a sweat-shop, churning out games year after year and only being given a dollar for your efforts.

Plenty of indie games sell for much more than $1.
If your game is worth $1 then sell it for $1, if it's worth $20, sell it for $20... Honestly, if something has taken years of development time, I'd expect it to sell for more than $1, unless it's so brilliantly great that you expect to sell 100 million copies anyway.

#6 Ukrzuel   Members   -  Reputation: 101

Posted 18 July 2011 - 12:25 AM

Not sure where all the "rich" talk comes from. Making $20,000 a year on games is not getting rich.

The amount of hard work put into programming, art, music, and design is worth something is it not? Just because I love my day job doesn't mean I would go there for $5 an hour.

People who're business minded should be able to relate. The eBay mentality of selling games for next to nothing, has hurt all developers. Why shouldn't we get paid for our hard work? But then again, if you would go to your day job for next to nothing because you enjoy it, I hope you can still pay your bills. :)

I'm not asking game programmers who just make games only to release to boast about their accomplishments, and gain status. I'm asking business minded people. If everything in life was low balled, the wages for the people producing the low balled products would never increase, and we would all be living off crackers and water.

#7 SimonForsman   Crossbones+   -  Reputation: 6108

Posted 18 July 2011 - 12:29 AM

If you want to get rich, do something else.

If you want to make games, who cares if you make money off of it?


Making money is essential if you wish to make games full time though, I think quite many of us here would love to be able to quit our ordinary jobs and just make games. (To do so you need to generate enough revenue to cover your living costs plus a buffert to survive a unsuccessful release)
I don't suffer from insanity, I'm enjoying every minute of it.
The voices in my head may not be real, but they have some good ideas!

#8 Amaz1ng   Members   -  Reputation: 131

Posted 18 July 2011 - 01:09 AM

I hear ya.

I actually gave up with games and programming in general...now I'm pursuing a bachelors of pharmacy. :cool:
http://innercirclegames.freeforums.org
Email me at: innercirclegames@hotmail.com

#9 rdragon1   Crossbones+   -  Reputation: 1200

Posted 18 July 2011 - 01:30 AM

Yes, it's risky to be indie. No, not everyone that wants to make money will do so. Yes, some people have made *tons* of money selling games for $1. That's life.

If you want "security", join up with a team that already has oodles of money and can afford to pay their employees for several years out. That said, realize that they too may shut their doors at any moment, even though they sell their games for $60. And be passionate about your work - everyone hates the people on the team that aren't engaged and are just their to do their hours and collect their paycheck.

#10 rdragon1   Crossbones+   -  Reputation: 1200

Posted 18 July 2011 - 01:33 AM

The amount of hard work put into programming, art, music, and design is worth something is it not?


It's only worth something if someone is willing to pay for it. And if your competitors can offer something similar cheaper, it can make it less valuable, Also depends on how good you are versus your peers versus the rest of the industry. Just because you call it "hard work" doesn't mean it's valuable to someone else - it's possible you're not very good compared to your peers or the rest of the industry. Unfortunately it seems the worse you are, the harder it is to realize it yourself.

#11 SimonForsman   Crossbones+   -  Reputation: 6108

Posted 18 July 2011 - 03:13 AM

Not sure where all the "rich" talk comes from. Making $20,000 a year on games is not getting rich.

The amount of hard work put into programming, art, music, and design is worth something is it not? Just because I love my day job doesn't mean I would go there for $5 an hour.

People who're business minded should be able to relate. The eBay mentality of selling games for next to nothing, has hurt all developers. Why shouldn't we get paid for our hard work? But then again, if you would go to your day job for next to nothing because you enjoy it, I hope you can still pay your bills. :)

I'm not asking game programmers who just make games only to release to boast about their accomplishments, and gain status. I'm asking business minded people. If everything in life was low balled, the wages for the people producing the low balled products would never increase, and we would all be living off crackers and water.


The problem really isn't the prices, low budget mobile games can sell several million copies if they're good and a 2 man team only need to sell around 20.000 copies per month at a $5 pricepoint to support themselves(the exact amount depends on what kind of distributor deal you can get, your living expenses and how much tax you have to pay), a decent 2 man team should be capable of pushing out 3 high quality mobile titles per year
I don't suffer from insanity, I'm enjoying every minute of it.
The voices in my head may not be real, but they have some good ideas!

#12 The_Neverending_Loop   Members   -  Reputation: 604

Posted 18 July 2011 - 05:18 AM

I mean it would be great to be the next minecraft or terreria story! but honestly as an indie developer If I had to pick between a million people playing my game for free, or making a nice little amount off of few people, Id pick option A, if your a hobbyist money shouldn't be the first thing on your mind, a hobby is something you do for fun. Iam actually worst off then selling my product for $1 as I started taking a ~250$ hit per month just to host my servers for my current project. It'd be great to turn a profit but if I don't I honestly wont care, now if I see my monthly traffic is like 10 users THEN! we have a problem lol.

#13 way2lazy2care   Members   -  Reputation: 782

Posted 18 July 2011 - 07:01 AM

The problem really isn't the prices, low budget mobile games can sell several million copies if they're good and a 2 man team only need to sell around 20.000 copies per month at a $5 pricepoint to support themselves(the exact amount depends on what kind of distributor deal you can get, your living expenses and how much tax you have to pay), a decent 2 man team should be capable of pushing out 3 high quality mobile titles per year


I feel like that is a lot more than you need to sell to "support [yourself]".

Selling that much the developers get $35,000/month/person. If you are only just supporting yourself on $35,000/month you are doing it wrong

edit: I really like the thing they are coming out with for the android app store for featured and employee pick apps to bring the higher quality apps to a more center stage. The largest problem in app stores isn't the low prices, it's the low prices paired with the giant ? of app quality. Once they sort out better ways to bring high quality apps to the customer the prices will naturally increase. Probably not to more than $5-10, but you can make bucket loads of money with rapid development of $5-10 apps.

Almost makes me wonder why I don't do it... I'm just sitting around watching top gear or true blood after work anyways...

/runs away to make millions of dollars.

#14 frob   Moderators   -  Reputation: 21224

Posted 18 July 2011 - 10:21 AM

One problem here is definition of terms, especially when it comes to "indie".

Start by understanding "The Long Tail" effect, which was known for many years but only given an interesting name a few years back.

There were many old articles in the Shareware community in the 1980's and 1990's that described the effect well enough.

If you want to support yourself making games and other software, you don't make JUST ONE random product and hope it does well.

You systematically build a product after doing market research, follow a professional workflow to determine what is preventing sales, and systematically remove them. Each barrier to entry multiplies with the ones before. For example, you have no advertising, which limits you to 0.001% of your potential market. Those who do hear about you visit your website, but it is crappy, and only 0.01% actually download your game. Of those who download it, only 23% actually install it. So at this point your barriers multiply to give you only 0.00000000023% of your potential sales. Continue with other barriers (the game crashes, hard to purchase, bad price point) and it quickly approaches zero. Approaching this professionally means finding the biggest barriers and breaking this down.


Then once you've got your first product doing reasonably well, make a second. You'll still have the "long tail" effect so you'll see sales from the first game. Then you systematically remove the barriers from the second game, and then the third game, and the fourth game, and eventually you'll see a rather significant income from combined sales of multiple products.

You'll notice that the people who made a lot of money with the various phone's app stores don't have just one app. They have a bunch of apps, and everyone knows about them, and they are trivial to buy, and they have great and impressive free demos, and everything about them is friendly with the barriers to making a profit being basically non-existent.


That takes BUSINESS work. Just coding up the game is the easy part.
Check out my personal indie blog at bryanwagstaff.com.

#15 SimonForsman   Crossbones+   -  Reputation: 6108

Posted 18 July 2011 - 12:20 PM


The problem really isn't the prices, low budget mobile games can sell several million copies if they're good and a 2 man team only need to sell around 20.000 copies per month at a $5 pricepoint to support themselves(the exact amount depends on what kind of distributor deal you can get, your living expenses and how much tax you have to pay), a decent 2 man team should be capable of pushing out 3 high quality mobile titles per year


I feel like that is a lot more than you need to sell to "support [yourself]".

Selling that much the developers get $35,000/month/person. If you are only just supporting yourself on $35,000/month you are doing it wrong

edit: I really like the thing they are coming out with for the android app store for featured and employee pick apps to bring the higher quality apps to a more center stage. The largest problem in app stores isn't the low prices, it's the low prices paired with the giant ? of app quality. Once they sort out better ways to bring high quality apps to the customer the prices will naturally increase. Probably not to more than $5-10, but you can make bucket loads of money with rapid development of $5-10 apps.

Almost makes me wonder why I don't do it... I'm just sitting around watching top gear or true blood after work anyways...

/runs away to make millions of dollars.


oops, i was mixing SEK and USD when counting:P , my bad, divide by 6 or 7 :P , so yeah, the number of sales you need isn't all that high, the problem is to get noticed without a marketing budget, but thats something that applies to pretty much any business.
I don't suffer from insanity, I'm enjoying every minute of it.
The voices in my head may not be real, but they have some good ideas!

#16 Luckless   Crossbones+   -  Reputation: 1798

Posted 18 July 2011 - 01:52 PM

Making money is essential if you wish to make games full time though


Then don't make games full time if you can't be sure your product is going to keep you afloat. Find a source of income that you can live off and still have enough time left over to work on your game development.

Jumping head first into game development with the idea of "I'll quit my job, work for a year full time on game development, and then make millions!" just doesn't fly. You're jumping out of an air plane with the idea that you can sew yourself a parachute before you hit the ground.


Make a game, build a business, Then dive into it full time.


How many years did Notch from Wurm Online/Mine Craft spend working part time on game development? Dreams aren't built over night.
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#17 A Brain in a Vat   Members   -  Reputation: 313

Posted 18 July 2011 - 02:16 PM

Making a game to sell for $1.00 - $5.00 appears to be a very sad reality in today's game market

I don't quite understand what the problem is with selling a game for $5 or even $1.

Did it take more than $5 to make the game? Of course. That's why you hope more than one person buys the game. Do realize that AAA games often take millions of dollars, and require very large teams of people working full-time for years? Those games sell for $60. I guarantee there was much more 12 times combined effort put into an average AAA game than you put into your $5 game you sell on an app market.

I'm finding it extremely hard to believe the time investment is worth the $40.00 I can make from 40 sales before a better game hits the spot light

You just said it right there. If your game isn't good enough then who's at fault for your low sales? The guy who made the better game? The industry as a whole? No, you are at fault.

There is an element of risk involved, sure. There's just as much risk for AAA development studios and publishers. More, probably. It's a risky business. Like others have pointed out, if you determine that it's not worth the risk, then we suggest you pursue other avenues.

Few of us here are independent game developers as our primary means of winning bread. We do it because it's a fun hobby. If you are trying to make money by not putting forth much effort, then I suggest you go into business.

#18 ThinkTank711   Members   -  Reputation: 301

Posted 18 July 2011 - 02:21 PM

I can give you a story from my own experience.

I started work on Holy Moly Dragons in Septemeber 2009. A friend of mine did all the art, I did all the programming, and we shared design. We both had full time jobs in the game industry (at that time, since then I've started working for a Univeristy in the R&D department), so we started developing the game on our spare time after work and on weekends. After 18 months of ~15 hours a week dev time, we released Holy Moly Dragons for the iPhone in April 2011 for $1.99 on the iPhone.

We had some initial success, we were even featured on the front pages of itunes in the "New and Noteworthy" section. At the time we were on the front page, we had dropped our price to .99 for the weekend. We were getting 300+ buys a day and reachedthe #31 most downloaded strategy game. Then when our sale ended and we went back to $1.99, our sales plummeted to ~100/day, even though we were still being featured.

As soon as we were off the front page, sales plummeted to ~30/day. We released an update with new levels and that shot sales up to about ~80/day for 2 days, then they fell again.

After ~3 months of being in the app store, we've made about $2,200. We sit around ~5 sales per days now and ~25 free version downloads per day. In relative comparison to most iphone apps, we've done extremely well, as most don't even make the $99 back for the ios dev license.

It's disappointing to put so much time and effort into something and have it not pay off, but that's life. I'm still proud of the game and I will continue to make games on the side, with the hopes of making a big seller one day.


Making money is essential if you wish to make games full time though


Then don't make games full time if you can't be sure your product is going to keep you afloat. Find a source of income that you can live off and still have enough time left over to work on your game development.

Jumping head first into game development with the idea of "I'll quit my job, work for a year full time on game development, and then make millions!" just doesn't fly. You're jumping out of an air plane with the idea that you can sew yourself a parachute before you hit the ground.


Make a game, build a business, Then dive into it full time.


How many years did Notch from Wurm Online/Mine Craft spend working part time on game development? Dreams aren't built over night.


I agree 100% with this course of action.

#19 A Brain in a Vat   Members   -  Reputation: 313

Posted 18 July 2011 - 02:30 PM

In general, I think maybe people would get more out of the whole game development experience if they'd make games that were more interesting.

The Supreme Court recently decided that video games are an art form. I don't think we act as if they are, though. Independent artists do art for the most part because they love it. Sure, they'd like to make money, but it's known by everyone that it's going to be tough. Most artists remain "starving artists" and they're ready for that, because they receive a deeper form of gratification.

Unless what you do is novel and interesting in some way, what makes you think you deserve to stand out from the thousands of shitty games that are available on any app market? Does the fact that it took you a lot of effort necessarily mean that people should pay more? I don't care if it took an hour to make me a burger or 10 minutes, I'm only going to pay what a burger's worth.

#20 Green_Gill   Members   -  Reputation: 139

Posted 29 December 2011 - 08:19 PM

How many years did Notch from Wurm Online/Mine Craft spend working part time on

http://www.chacha.co...-make-minecraft

Minecraft is a sandbox building indie video game written in Java originally by Swedish creator Markus Notch Persson. Minecraft development began on May 10, 2009. It was released on It was released on May 17, 2009

Research: Someone has to do it. n.n Google: Easier than research. Demotivational posters: I've seen too many. XD

P.S. I'm not the most socially apt person (read: I tried to buy tact, but they said they don't sell it), so if anyone wants this rephrased, let me know. n.n




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